CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009
Fourteen-year old Frankie Uccello has always had vivid dreams filled with colour. He is disturbed by them, but rather than feeling special, his down-to-earth father tells him that they are a common experience, especially in childhood. He sees himself as supremely normal and average, yet can't quite let go of the strangeness and messages of his dreams. His actions in the story are largely based on the events in his colour dreams. He dreamt he was a black bird, and so when a stranded ocean petrel is found at his school, he feels compelled to try to heal it. This puts him into more contact with Maura-Lee, an unusual girl in his class who he has always tried to steer clear of. As well as working together to find food for his bird, the two teens cross paths at the therapeutic horse-riding ranch where Maura-Lee boards her horse and where Frankie's dad volunteers him as an assistant.
After one of the riding sessions, Frankie witnesses an accident with a horse, an accident that he is convinced was foretold in his dream. He feels guilty that he didn't act quickly enough to prevent it. His guilt becomes more intense as he realizes that a frightening orange dream he had years earlier was actually images of a fire that maimed Maura-Lee's father. He believes that he should have been able to do something to prevent the events, and Maura-Lee is very angry when he tells her about it. However, it turns out that her anger is coming from a different source, and when she confesses to Frankie what really happened in the fire, their developing bond of friendship becomes stronger.
Seeing Red is an interesting mix of a naturalistic horse story incorporating a touch of the paranormal, as both Frankie and Maura-Lee have extrasensory abilities. The novel is set in Antigonish, NS, and details of place are abundant. Many minor characters, such as the teachers at Frankie's high school and the horse crowd at Hug a Horse ranch, are developed to a substantial degree. Frankie's parents are shown interacting with each other in a joking, affectionate way, rather than with Frankie directly. While developing the world of the novel, the number of characters and the details of setting sometimes prevent the story from moving forward. The numerous scenes at the horse ranch show Frankie conquering his fear of horses to some extent and showcase his kindheartedness and compassion in helping Joey, an autistic child, but do not serve a clear purpose in the larger story.
Frankie's conflict or quest is unclear. He is disturbed and guilt-ridden by his dreams while also believing they are nothing special, or even meaningless. No one suggests to him that he's responsible for the events he dreams, but he can't shake this feeling, although he isn't sure whether his dreams take place before, at the same time, or after the actual events. His feeling of responsibility is strong and slightly puzzling. At his age, one would expect him to have a stronger grasp of cause and effect. His feelings are partly attributed to a turquoise dream featuring his Nanna. She died a few days after his dream, and he's linked these events in his mind.
Frankie is also a skateboarding aficionado and someone who notices girls, but in an oddly detached way, noticing how his friends interact with girls more than exploring his own feelings. Yet, aside from admitting he sees himself as average, he doesn't seem to be shy or timid. In contrast, Maura-Lee is a more complete character, though she appears much less often.
The prose is clean, with short, direct sentences, first person narration and believable dialogue. All the characters are likable, and some are quite vivid although they have minor roles. The diffuse threads of the story are brought together at the end to provide a satisfying conclusion to this character-driven novel. The story will have appeal for horse lovers as this world is lovingly evoked with a great deal of realistic detail about the care of horses and their behaviour.
Recommended with reservations.
Andrea Galbraith is a student librarian and writer based in Vancouver., BC.
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